Global Fine Arts Awards 2015

A Utopian Stage at Whitechapel Gallery (2015) received the Global Fine Arts Awards’ nomination for Best Exhibition (Alternative category).

Selected Press (Archive)

The 4th Dhaka Art Summit
February 2018

A world away, ‘A Utopian Stage’, curated by Vali Mahlouji and his archival project Archaeology of the Final Decade, revisits the Festival of Arts, Shiraz-Persepolis, which took place in Iran every summer between 1967 and 1977. Looking equally to the avant-garde and the classical, East and West, the festival was guided by high modernist aspirations to radical democracy between art forms and solidarity between peoples. Amongst myriad others, John Cage performed there, as did Ravi Shankar, Iannis Xenakis and the Iranian santur virtuoso Faramarz Payvar; Peter Brook staged plays, Dariush Mehrjui premiered films, Sardono Kusumo presented Javanese masked dances. In one of my favourite moments of the whole summit, a programme for the 1972 festival lists the day’s cinema programme: West Side Story, Les Parapluies de Cherbourg, Theatre and Dance from Africa. In 1977, the event was shut down by religious decree; the documentation and ephemera that Mahlouji has tracked down and exhibits here remain banned in Iran. That the festival, and the cosmopolitan but autocratic regime of the Shah that supported it, might have, in fact, spurred the rise of the religious fundamentalism that brought about its downfall is the unaddressed subtext here. And, for all talk of the dialogue between ‘ritualizing modernists and modernizing nativists’, to quote Mahlouji’s brilliant phrase, it remains pretty clear which is which. That this show captured my imagination in a way that the more didactic presentations did not is perhaps because I was already familiar with the festival’s cast of characters; it makes sense to my Western eyes. (How to see from somewhere else? That, in essence, is the work of decolonizing.) Still, I understood ‘A Utopian Stage’ as an invitation: instead of telling us how things are, it was an open call to imagine how they might yet be.


Recreating the Citadel at Tate Modern
August 2017

Archaeology of the Final Decade (AOTFD) is delighted to announce the opening of a room dedicated to Recreating the Citadel: Prostitute (1975-77) at Tate Modernfeaturing Kaveh Golestan’s photographic work alongside research materials uncovered by AOTFD. Following the recent acquisition of these materials by the museum, they will be displayed in parallel for the next twelve months within the museum’s permanent collection. The display marks the first time in the museum’s history that a room of the permanent collection has been dedicated to an Iranian artist.

Tate’s recent acquisition of twenty vintage prints from Golestan’s Prostitute series comes on the back of recent travelling exhibitions of Recreating the Citadel, curated by AOTFD, at Foam Fotografiemuseum Amsterdam, Musée d’art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, MAXXI Museo nazionale delle arti del XXI secolo (Rome), and Photo London (Somerset House). Tate’s acquisition follows similar purchases of Golestan’s work by Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris and Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA).

Founded by Vali Mahlouji in 2010, Archaeology of the Final Decade is a curatorial and educational platform which identifies, investigates and re-circulates significant cultural and artistic materials that have remained obscure, under-exposed, endangered, or in some instances destroyed. A core aim of AOTFD is the reintegration of these materials into cultural memory, counteracting the damages of censorship and historical erasure.

Art Dubai Modern Advisory Committee
July 2017

Art Dubai will see two new developments in its Modern section this year. For the first time, the fair will accept group exhibits in addition to solo- and two-artist presentations within Art Dubai Modern, allowing for a wider, comprehensive and deeper reading of art production in the 20th century in the Middle East, Africa and South Asia. In so doing, Art Dubai Modern will present a greater diversity and tighter curatorial proposals.

Art Dubai is also delighted that independent curator and art advisor Vali Mahlouji will join a renowned group of art historians and curators on the Advisory Committee for Art Dubai Modern, currently including Iftikhar Dadi, Nada Shabout and Catherine David.

Counter Cultures
Negar Azimi, October 2014
“Iran as captured in the ‘Final Decade’ display was worldly and engaged. Journals such as Ketab-e Jom’eh (Friday Book) and Ketab-e Hafteh (Weekly Book) carried modern poetry in translation and accounts of the coming third-world revolution. Also assembled here, the works of the caricaturist Ardeshir Mohasses— X-rays of Iranian society that are by turns droll and tragic—were especially worth lingering over, as was the room devoted to Kaveh Golestan’s Shahr-e No (New City) 1975–77, a project consisting of the late photog- rapher’s reportage on a shabby red-light district that would eventually burn to the ground in a mysterious fire in the first days of the revolution. Assembled along with research documentation about the neighborhood were portraits of prostitutes in half-lit caves, their gazes alternately plaintive, smoldering, angry, and despairing.”

Negar Azimi, May 2014
“It seems to be Iran’s modern moment. On the heels of the Asia Society’s well-received “Iran Modern” exhibition this past fall in New York, this survey brings together work from 1960 – roughly the point at which the nation began a period of rapid urbanization and development – to the present. “Unedited History” is divided into four temporal blocks: 1960-70, the revolutionary period of 1979, the Iran-Iraq war (1980-88), and the years since. Together with this selection of fine arts, highlights from other aspects of the country’s rich visual culture, such as formidable cinema history and the life of the Shiraz-Persepolis Festival of Arts, should encourage new and unconventional readings of Iran and its vexed experience of modernity – through monarchy, revolution, and theocracy.”

Roxana Azimi, 23 May 2014
Translated from French to English
“A home of exceptional creative force crystallizes in the Festival of Arts, Shiraz-Persepolis, organized from 1967-78. Curator of this section, Vali Mahlouji restores the vitality of the platform on which the shah’s secret police, Savak, had taken…the country hosted the greatest international artists of the time, the stage director Peter Brook, composer Olivier Messiaen through to choreographer Marice  Béjart.
At the opposite extreme of this universalism, which meant to oxygenate local practices, are the photographs of prostitutes of Shahr-e No, the red light district of Tehran, which are captured through the lense of Kaveh Golestan. Between the progressiveness of a country that wanted its place in the international cultural stage and the precariousness of the marginalized social groups, the gap is huge. It will pave the revolution.”

Roxane Zand, 19 May 2014
“Co-curated by Morad Montazami, Catherine David, Odile Burluraux, Vali Mahlouji and Narmine Sadeg, this exhibition does exactly what the title suggests: dish up a ‘raw history’ that tells a spell-binding tale…Does it work? I have to say that on one level it was for me one of the most educational and eye-opening shows about Iran I have seen in recent times…It is difficult not to engage with the perspectives, insights and critical angles – from Ardeshir Mohassess’s satirical commentary to Vali Mahlouji’s expertly-curated section on the ‘archaeology of the final decade’ with the attacks on Tehran’s prostitutes. A nostalgic whistle-stop tour of the Shiraz Arts Festival followed by priceless material from photographic and cinematic archives made for fascinating viewing.”

Rare Glimpses of Iran’s Lost Underworld
Elaine Sciolino, 20 March 2014
“Many journalists who encountered Mr. Golestan over his long career (including me) knew him as a hard-news photographer and cameraman. He was one of the finest chroniclers of the 1979 Islamic revolution that overthrew the shah of Iran, his native country….What is less known is that in the years before the revolution, when Iran was still a Westernized monarchy, Mr. Golestan recorded in stark black-and-white the daily lives of Iran’s dispossessed. An exhibition of one of his most dramatic subjects — prostitutes confined to Tehran’s red-light district known as the Citadel of Shahr-e No (New City) — opens in the Foam Photography Museum in Amsterdam on Thursday and runs through May 4.”

Amsterdam’s Foam museum stages a compelling line up of photography exhibitions
Merel Bem, 11 April 2014
“Here, you can see the magic being created by the careful layering of historical material (newspaper clippings, diaries, contact sheets, a documentary), which accompanies the pictures. Curator and researcher Vali Mahlouji brings to life the tumultuous perception of Golestan’s photographs through years of oppression by the Iranian government. Too much explanation? No way, it all adds up.”